How to Grow Tomatoes From Seed

   

Have you ever had bad luck growing tomato plants from seed? You planted your seed and eagerly awaited juicy homegrown sandwich slices or savory spaghetti sauce. The seedlings emerged from the ground and you helplessly watched them turn into spindly threads that died.  Sound familiar? You’re not alone.  

Growing tomatoes from seed is surprisingly simple, but there are a few extra steps you will have to take.  

First of all, tomatoes should be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to your last frost date.  

Make sure you are using STERILE potting mix. If you use just any dirt, it could cause your plant to dampen off (fall over and die unexpectedly). I sterilize my own dirt. This process is easy. Simply fill a oven-safe container with dirt and bake or place in grill at 350° F for about 30 minutes. If I skip this process, I will have at least a 10% loss.  

As SOON as they seedlings begin to emerge from the dirt put them under light. Light from a windowsill IS NOT ENOUGH LIGHT. You will have to place your seedlings under a special grow light or under a florescent light, similar to one you would have in your garage or kitchen. Regular florescent lights will work fine, but your plant will need to be within 1″ of the bulb for 16-18 hours per day. This can be tricky as some plants can grow faster than others. In the picture below you can see a light in our little shed/barn I have dropped. I grab whatever is handy to tweek the height between my 2 week and 6 week old plants. It does not need to be fancy, although now that I am sharing these pictures I’m wondering if I could have used something more pleasing to the eye rather than the toolboxes. 🙂  

 

Under the shop light

Bringing the plants up 1" from light

Water your plants as needed but do not drown them. Wait until the soil is dry all the way through (a moisture meter works well for this and can be purchased in any garden center). Not bone dry but it should not appear damp or feel damp to the touch.  If you let it get too dry for too long, your plant will begin to wilt. Too much watering will also kill so find a happy medium.  

Some people suggest brushing the seedlings with your hands for a few minutes per day, gently grazing the tops of the leaves and stem with the palms of your hands. This is supposed to make the plant stem stronger. However, I have never used this method and have still had very sturdy and healthy plants.  

Another common recommendation is the use of a fan to circulate air. This will help prevent disease. I leave my shed doors open several hours a day to allow fresh air to enter and do not use a fan. I have never encountered problems. If you plants are in a non-ventilated area with no way of opening it up to some fresh air, you may want to consider using a fan.  

If you planted your seedlings in seed trays or close to one another you will want to transplant them once into about a 3″ pot or a few into one larger pot (equally spaced). Make sure this soil is sterile or sterilize your own.  

Two weeks before you plan to transplant your tomatoes outdoors you will need to “harden” them off. This means that you will introduce them to the outdoor elements slowly. Never introduce your plant into direct sunlight, as it will rapidly wilt (sometimes within as little as 10 minutes) and die. Start by putting your plant in the shade for an hour a day and increasing that time every day until your plant can remain outdoors all day and night. Check them frequently for any signs of wilting or drooping. If you do find any signs of wilting, move them to a safer place immediately. Do not wait too long to begin the hardening off process. The longer you wait to harden off a plant, the harder it becomes.
 
After planting your tomatoes in the garden there are a few things to remember:
 
Avoid using too much nitrogen. If you use fertilizer high in nitrogen, you may end up with beautiful 8′ plants that bear no fruit. I till organic compost into the ground weeks before planting and never fertilize my tomatoes.
 
Supply calcium to your plant to prevent premature fruit rotting. You can crush egg shells (great source of calcium) and  bury them around your plants. You can even use human calcium tablets (vitamins) and soak them in water until they completely dissolve then pour mixture on roots of your plants. However you supply calcium, make sure you do it! You don’t want to end up with tomatoes that have suddenly rotted at harvest time.
 
Every time you transplant your seedling to a bigger pot and perhaps eventually to the garden, bury it deeper than the last container. The buried portion of the stem will root, providing the plant with a strong root system.
 
Grow your tomatoes in different locations every year. Crop rotation helps cut down on potential diseases.
 

Tomato and Eggplants

 

 
 
 

   

 

 

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